Note: I’ve been missing my old IDS gigs where I bashed out weekly 500-600 word columns and I feel like the blog needs more time sensitive material that’s not just post-air analysis. Thus, I’ll be trying to write something of a weekly column that will touch on one specific item in the industry. I hope this works.
When Glee began, it was a genre-bending series that was unlike anything on television. The music, the performances and Jane Lynch’s performance as Sue Sylvester took first the television viewing community by storm and then by the end of its initial 13-episode run, had fully permeated into the general consciousness of our culture. It was a phenomenon.
Because production took some time off so co-creator Ryan Murphy could direct the “Eat Pray Love” movie, by the time things revved up again, everyone behind the scenes knew what fans wanted — more. More music, more outrageous lines and outfits, more Sue. And if there’s anyone who can add more and more to his series, it’s Ryan Murphy. Though I didn’t religiously follow either of his previous two series, Popular and Nip/Tuck, I know that as both progressed, the teen drama and medical soap consistently tried to top the insanity that came before it (Popular less so, but that’s only because it was axed). By Nip/Tuck‘s end, it had more or less alienated its original fan base because it became a series of gross-out, obnoxious moments that weren’t organic at all, but simply attempts at shocking the audience.
On a smaller level, that’s exactly what happened to the second half of Glee season one. The tribute episode, the addition of more numbers per episode, the back-grounding of multiple supporting characters and the hobbling of the once admirable-if-not-dopey Will Schuester. Everything that major Gleeks wanted, they were given, while smaller, subtle character moments were pushed aside. When the season finale, “Journey,” was full of those aforementioned character moments, multiple critics noted that it all felt like a finale to a phantom second half of the season that we never actually watched.
Well, Ryan Murphy wouldn’t.
In the last few weeks, amid the series of press things his been doing for both Glee and “Eat Pray Love,” Murphy has repeatedly noted that Glee would be taking a more quieter, character-centric approach. I was in the crowd at Comic-Con a few weeks back when Murphy said a few times that the series is certainly avoiding going “bigger.” At the TCA Press Tour, he told Vulture that the reason we haven’t been bombarded with Glee products this summer is because he and FOX decided to dial it back to avoid fatigue and again noted, “The second season by design is quieter and more intimate. Less numbers, no cavalcade of new people,” Murphy says. “I loved the Madonna episode, but except for the Super Bowl episode, I want to do smaller, more emotional stories… [like] the ‘Wheels’ episode. The whole season is much more like that.”
I have to say that the marketing slowdown is a brilliant move, but I can’t see why anyone who knows how Murphy has operated in the past or understands why people love Glee would actually believe in all his posturing. To wit: At Comic-Con, right after Murphy said S2 would avoid going bigger, he mentioned that there would be a Britney Spears tribute episode, probably another Madonna one, a special Super Bowl episode that he couldn’t talk about and a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” episode. Right there, we can expect 4 episodes to be far from “quiet” or “small!” And again, remember Ryan Murphy is the guy responsible for how Nip/Tuck “progressed” over time. All of the people I know who were still watching it at the end hated themselves just as much as they hated the series.
So let me ask this: Is Murphy just telling critics and fans with a more cynical eye what they want to hear? I hate to go to this well again, but I do know of some people who are fully aware of Glee‘s issues that manifested at the end of season one, but found themselves making excuses just because they loved the music and the charm (see my podcast with the awesome Austin Morris where he does just that). Thus, if Murphy spends all summer talking to the press about scaling it back and almost seeming apologetic for the way things were handled in the back nine, won’t those who were fairly annoyed in May be more predisposed to go with things early in season two or even talk themselves into thinking that the series has, in fact, gone quieter?
Again, this all assumes that we’ll believe Ryan Murphy, but why should we?